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December 16, 2003


I didn't remember to write about Friday's gig until just now, when I saw Dr Pete had also been there. I'd been planning to go to the Oysterband 25th anniversary concert since first hearing about it; in the event we took our friends Joan Paterson and Tibs, leaving their and our children at home with our beleagured babysitter.

The Forum takes about 2000 people, though some of those must have been upstairs in the seats. We were downstairs, just behind the sound desk, pressed up against the wire cage. I'd wanted to go down the front and be trampled to death but I was outvoted by my friends. The front of Oysterband gigs is a bit scary if you're short.

Because of the kids, we missed much of the Oyster Ceilidh Band, opening the evening with a proper ceilidh down the front. If I'd been there first thing, I'd have danced, but it was too full to get anywhere near by the time we were there.

The proper support was acapella Chumbawamba. Oysterband and Chumbawamba have been pals for a long time, playing on each other's records and both fitting into the loud, anti-establishment traditional music niche. So they were the perfect guests for this concert.

I saw proper full-blown Chumbawamba at the Cambridge folk festival; this was quite different. They've re-recorded their album English Rebel Songs; instead of running from 1381-1914, it now goes right up to 1984 with the addition of Coal not Dole. They sang that, and Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire, Hard Times of Old England, Cutty Wren, The Diggers Song, Song of the Times, Daddy Was a Bank Robber, Bella Ciao, The Day the Nazi Died, and no doubt others I'd forgotten. Their set was just splendid; worth the admission price all by itself, really. Only one thing marred it; hundreds of twats in the coat queue talking all the way through. Mind you, it was pretty bloody irritating that there was a massive queue for the cloakroom; next Forum gig I'm going to freeze on the tube and not take a coat. This time I ended up shoving my chattels under a table by us; if I'd had to redeem a coat at the end we'd probably have missed the last tube instead of being home at a perfectly reasonable time. (The chattels included a t-shirt and two new Oysterband releases; a special 25-year EP and a re-release of one of the early albums.)

Chumbawamba has dozens of mp3s online, including lots of great songs; they also have an entire section of "illegal downloads" -- tracks that they unaccountably forgot to get the rights for but have put on their website anyway.

Here's what the Oysters played: Native Son, Uncommercial Song, If you can't be good, be lucky, Lost & Found (the first Oysterband song I ever heard), the Bishop of Chester, Angels of the River, Hal-an-Tow, Molly Bond, Mississippi Summer, Dark Eyed Sailor, White Rabbit (those last three with June Tabor, touring with them for the first time since 1990), By Northern Light, 20th April, Everywhere I go, Tumbledown, Blackwaterside, This is the Voice (with Chumbawamba), When I'm Up, Santiago, Blood Wedding -- then the encores: Shouting End of Life, Put Out the Lights, Bright Morning Star (these last two with everyone), We Could Leave Right Now.

The audience was completely full of mad Oyster fans of the sing every word kind (there were a couple of occasions where the band stopped playing completely for some considerable time -- though John Jones didn't have to, as he has in the past, ask the audience if they could stop singing so the band could get on and do the next song.) It was, on the whole, a staggeringly good gig. The band were on the sort of form you'd expect; full of both energy and emotion. There was a good mix of favourites and rarities. The sound was generally good (we were right by the sound desk), though there were a couple of problems. This may well have been the best Oysterband gig I've ever been to, and, hey; they're my favourite live band and I've seen them a good few times (perhaps 20 or so?). As on the last couple of occasions I've seen them, they had James O'Grady on pipes as well as bringing back their 'chick singer', June Tabor, to do songs from Freedom and Rain.

What's amazing in that setlist is all the songs they didn't do -- Oxford Girl, Granite Years, Milford Haven, All that Way for This, the Deserter, Love Vigilantes, One Green Hill, Another Quiet Night in England, Here's to You, Polish Plain, Jam Tomorrow, just counting the ones they do pretty often. There's at least a couple of dozen more that I'd have really liked to hear.

I didn't take my camera this time, foolish, foolish girl. (I was expecting to be standing in the middle of a scrum; in fact I could happily have steadied the camera on the chickenwire). They were filming the gig, so here's hoping there's a DVD shortly. Between my dance matting and my yoga, standing and dancing for four hours holds no qualms for me any more, though I did sleep well.

Posted by Alison at December 16, 2003 11:09 PM


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